HONOUR THE DEAD by Steven Saylor
Constable Robinson - 2001
ISBN 1841192279 - Hardcover
Historical Mystery

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde, MyShelf.com
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To fans of historical whodunits Steven Saylor needs no introduction; his Roma Sub Rosa mysteries are some of the finest examples of the genre.  Now Saylor turns his hand to a true mystery from his native Texas – the all-but-forgotten crimes of the Servant Girl Annihilator that took place in Austin during 1885.  The case is largely seen via the viewpoint of O Henry when he was a young idler called Will Porter picking up casual work and making daring forays into the brothel zone of “Guy Town” with his best friend the journalist Dave Shoemaker.  The brutal killings of young black servant girls have the city in an uproar and the local police haul in one black suspect after another but there isn’t any clue as to who is doing the bloody work.  Matters reach a crescendo with the murder of respectable white women and somehow life for Will isn’t going to be the same again…

These are unsolved crimes to this day – the US equivalent of Jack The Ripper – and Saylor offers one suggestion of whodunit providing the tense novel with a bizarre and thrilling twist.  Beyond the basic story the book is replete with the author’s knowledge of Austin and the period; a time when the Civil War was a recent memory and blacks were still only a step away from slaves.  In his Roman novels Saylor shows the vast gulf between free people and slaves and here he shows the same between white and black; any black man will do for an arrest.   Add to this the device of having the main story interspersed with O Henry returning to Austin from New York in 1906 to find out from some acquaintances what really happened and this is one impressive book – stylish, brilliantly told and very gripping. 

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